Bosses, shut up and listen!

“I built my career by building relationships in person…”

“The most significant conversations in my career began with ‘Have you got 5 minutes…’ …”

“I learnt most from sitting next to older workers and going down the pub with them…”

… so we must all return to the office otherwise kids today will be denied the opportunities to build their careers like I did”

If I hear another middle-aged, middle-class white man say this, or something similar, I’m going to explode. Seriously, this is not good news for my blood pressure.

What makes them think their personal experience from 40, 30 or even 20 years ago has much relevance to kids who are navigating their way through the world today? What do 20-year olds do today that is exactly like what their parents did at that age? Almost nothing. (Not, not even that. We didn’t even know some of those positions were possible back then!).

To make things worse, they nearly always come from an industry with very specific dynamics, like, oh I don’t know, Newspapers, the Ad Industry world, Investment Banking, that are distinct from most office work experience. Industries that have as much in common with working on an office park in Slough as ‘Naked Attraction’ has to ‘Panorama’.

The world has turned. Kids do things differently these days, in ways we couldn’t even imagine. They develop friendships all over the world through online gaming platforms. They create and publish their own content, continually. They access information and resources instantly, wherever they are. They curate their own image, they build their own brand. They have different expectations of the world, they have different aspirations.

Speaking as a middle-aged, middle-class white man myself, I’d like to offer my peers some advice.

Shut up!

Stop talking such arrant nonsense and start listening. Get curious about people who have built their careers differently to you. Try to imagine what the world looks like through the eyes of those younger than you.

When they say your experience isn’t relevant to them, don’t mistake it for the arrogance of youth. They’re right. They are not going to follow in your footsteps, they are not going to climb the same ladder as you (often because you and your peers have pulled it up behind you). They are going to forge their own path, do it in a new way that wasn’t possible for you.

Say less, look and listen more. Adapt to the emerging reality.

Because, to paraphrase General Shinseki, you might not like change but you’re going to like irrelevance a lot less.

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